This non-limited special edition scratches itches that are both nerdy and mainstream.
I’ve always found the phrase “entry-level” a bit misleading. A bit irritating too. It comes across as implying that there’s more fun to be had with something else, which is often more expensive. And now that you have “entered”, one must begin a hero’s quest. Pitfalls must be overcome: folded-link bracelets, mineral crystals, weak lume. Pain endured: sharp lug undersides, the first scratch on said mineral crystal and the realisation that bezels cannot be expected to align.
Once you have suffered enough, and saved, you are meant to (finally) be ready to move on to the mid-tier, and then restart this whole cycle of love and pain. This is how the watch market is actually segmented: entry-level, mid-tier, enthusiasts’ watches, quasi-luxury (it’s a thing), entry-level luxury, mid-tier luxury and so on. You get the idea.
This whole thing can seem positively Scientological: swiping the plastic to climb up the Thetan levels. Don’t get me wrong. There’s fun in it. For obsessives like me, it’s the minutiae that makes watches interesting and a perpetually educational experience. Often, the higher up the price brackets you go, the more quality, history and more Social XP you score.
Or you could just hack the first few levels with the Seiko SRPE99K, or the PADI Turtle.
This watch is a design descendant of the 6309 (1976 to 1988). It was Seiko’s simplified update to the 6105, aka The Willard/Naomi Uemura.
If you look up vintage Seikos, “6309”, you will find two variations. The first is the "cushion-cased" variant, which was made during the entire production run. This is what we now refer to as the “Turtle”.
The second is the "slimmed-down case" variant (1982 to 1988). From this line we can almost draw a straight line to the SKX via the 7548 Quartz Divers.
Relaunch of the Turtle
We have become used to all watch brands leveraging their back catalogue, but in early 2016, when Seiko launched the first series of Turtles since 1988, it was a pretty big deal. At least in the international markets, one could make a strong claim that it test-ran the #heritage play for Seiko. What Tudor could do with the Black Bay, Seiko would eventually do with the 62MAS, Willard and even the Alpinist.
The SRP777 (black dial and bezel), SRP775 (black with gold accents), SRP779 (black dial, Pepsi bezel) and SRP773 (navy dial and bezel) were near one-to-one recreations of the original 6309.
The beloved and lucrative SKX was a ‘92 Civic, if you will: hardy, infinitely moddable and charmingly neo-vintage, both in looks and in the movement department.
The Turtles, by comparison, were angling for something extra. The vintage factor was turned up to 11 and the ISO certification was retained. The modern Prospex logo on the dial was a slight deviation, but between the dial geometry and the signature hands, tongues began a-wagging.
Who could blame us? The pull was strong. After all, this was the other branch of the SKX family tree and provided the enthusiast community something to tether to in the mental map.
By Baselworld of that year Seiko decided it needed to celebrate the birthday of PADI, its old collab partner-in-crime. Being the go-to international organisation for certifying divers, Seiko’s partnership with PADI is both organic and productive and going strong to this day.
The result, the PADI Turtle (then the SRPA21, now the SRPE99) was a fitting tribute. In many ways it is the affordable “Director’s Cut” Seiko diver. I say that because yes, you can get a Pepsi bezel in the SRP779, and a blue dial in the SRP773, but the PADI brings both together, and the result is a very unique look. If you holiday in Bali and not the Bahamas, this is an excellent summer watch.
The red-to-blue transition on the aluminium bezel is not purely for aesthetics. Let’s break it down, because, even if we both know you’re possibly not going scuba diving with this, it will be the type of knowledge that will complement the wrist-roll.
In the days before dive computers, the red zone (lume pip to 20th minute marker) on the bezel was critical for timing “decompression stops”, which are wee pauses divers have to take as they come up to the surface. Why? Because the deeper you go, the more your blood gets dissolved with Nitrogen. If the diver did not stop ever so often and came straight up, the Nitrogen would expand, turning into bubbles in the bloodstream and tissues, causing decompression sickness, which could lead to fatigue and pain in muscles and joints, and even strokes.
Most stops for the average sports diver are in the 15-minute range.
All of which is to say, yes, when the minute hand lines up with the 20, for the sake of your health it’s time you stopped rage-posting on Reddit and went back to work.
As for the material itself, I know aluminium bezels get a lot of stick, and most people would prefer a ceramic bezel over an aluminium one. That is entirely understandable. They work beautifully with GMTs and chronographs - which aren’t meant to be knocked around, watches the Explorer II being the exceptions. Ceramic adds a bit of glossy glamour, urbane and business-like.
On divers though, I have always appreciated the matte, denim-like nature of aluminium, because it doesn’t tie my brain in a logical knot. If you get a tool watch, it’s meant to cop a few blows. All ISO rated Seiko divers come fully graduated, and the white dots here contrast strikingly with the blue and red. The feel upon turning is signature Seiko, i.e. dampened and precise clicks, with little-to-no backplay.
The dial is objectively beautiful. It’s a shade or three darker than the bezel, and transitions from navy to nearly black at certain angles. Stark contrast is provided by the trapezoidal cardinal
Indices - with the 12 getting the signature “sword plunging a BMW grill from the bottom” look - and white printed circular hour indices with thick coatings of Lumibrite on them.
The day-date complication is at the 3. While some prefer their divers in a no-date format for the sake of cleanliness and symmetry, I have always found them useful since my rotation is weekly, and not daily. And if you pick yours up and the day-date is out of whack, just leave it. We all get there eventually.
Every fifth minute on the chapter ring is a red dash. The arrow shaped minute hand gets a catchy red outline. It makes the hand appear broader than it is which might even make it more legible. And that’s handy, since one of my bugbears with the SRPD and SRPE Seiko 5s is that the handset can be a touch undersized when compared with the overall visual footprint of the case.
If Seiko are magicians when it comes to case proportions, their cushion cases are the party tricks. On my 6.75 inch wrist it should feel bulky, but that 45 mm width is tempered by an “I gotchoo” 47.6mm lug to lug. Whereas the Willard case fully covers the crown at either side, the 4 o’clock crown on the Turtle family is half exposed due to the symmetrical nature of the case. In either case the root of the crown, its most vulnerable part, is protected.
The overall look of the watch head, case, dial and bezel, is uncompromising. Whereas the other variants of the Turtle are more versatile and can be worn in semi-formal occasions, the PADI is all fun and function, more at home with tees and jeans.
If you get over how much you’re meant to dislike Seiko bracelets, and judge the one on this on its own merits, you’ll be pleased. It’s sturdy, and balances out the case. The clasp comes with a flip lock, four micro-adjusts and push buttons. Standard stuff. All up, the whole package comes in at 190 grams. It’s a big boy for sure, but akin to a van that handles like a ute. Put it on a chunky rubber strap though, and it’ll feel like a hot-hatch.
Crystal and Movement
The crystal is Hardlex, Seiko’s own formulation of mineral, which means that it might pick up a scratch, but it might not, since it isn’t domed. It is well protected by the case at all but direct angles of contact.
Between the ruggedness of the 4R36 movement (hand winds and hacks) with its 41 hours of power reserve, the lineage packed into the case, and the specificity of the PADI design language, there is very little about the PADI Turtle that is “entry-level”, except the price.